Louisiana (and every other state) needs to impose mask mandates now | Tammy C. Barney

July 26, 2021 6:30 am
Louisiana extends face mask mandate

Visitors walk past face mask signs along Decatur Street in the French Quarter on July 14, 2020 in New Orleans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

From banning smoking in businesses to forcing drivers and passengers to wear seat belts to prohibiting texting while driving, governments have never had a problem passing laws to protect residents from themselves. Yet, even though Louisiana has the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the United States, our officials refuse to do the two things that will save us all — issue mandates and enforce them.

I believe in personal rights and freedom. I also believe that exercising your right to make your own health choices should not infringe on the rights of others to be protected from a deadly virus.

The country appeared to be containing the novel coronavirus, until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — in all its infinite wisdom — announced in May that fully vaccinated people did not have to wear masks indoors. Almost immediately, mask mandates across the country were lifted.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told NBC’s Lester Holt that the CDC is not recommending that folks wear masks if they are fully vaccinated because wearing masks is a personal decision. The only exception is for the immunosuppressed, she said, who should continue to wear masks and consult their doctors, she said.

The CDC was late in implementing the mask-wearing guidelines at the start of the pandemic and relaxed those same guidelines too soon. Relying on the honor system to keep the unvaccinated masked was not a smart move. Both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated took off their masks, and the more contagious Delta variant began to spread.

Louisiana has been hit especially hard.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), the slow pace of vaccinations and the spread of the Delta variant have caused Louisiana’s COVID-19 trends to worsen. The number of new cases diagnosed each day in Louisiana has been increasing since June 16 and is now increasing in all parts of  the state. The statewide average daily number of cases per 100,000 residents increased 177% during a 14-day period.

“The Delta variant of COVID is now the dominant strain in Louisiana and without the protection that the safe and effective vaccines offer, you are far more likely to become ill with COVID in Louisiana,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “Our hospitals are again stretched thin with limited staff capacity, and the vast majority of COVID patients are not yet fully vaccinated against the illness.”

For the past few days, Edwards has pleaded for the 60% of unvaccinated state residents to get the shots ASAP. “If you have not taken one of the COVID-19 vaccines and you’re 12 or older, it’s time to run — not walk — to one of the more than 1,400 locations where they are readily available all across the state of Louisiana,” he said. The vaccine “will not cost you anything out of your pocket, and it will save your life.”

Like Edwards, other elected and health officials have recommended, suggested and advised constituents to get vaccinated. They have tried to bribe the unvaccinated with money, food, beer and scholarships. Professional athletes, actors, musicians and other celebrities participated in public service announcements encouraging their fans to take the shot.

And still we have anti-vaccination protests, as well as Fox News and the internet spewing inaccurate information about COVID-19 vaccines. Fear + ignorance + confusion = 99.2% of all COVID-19 deaths being unvaccinated people.

Some officials, such as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, are blaming the unvaccinated for the Delta variant surge. When a reporter asked her what it would take to get people vaccinated, she said, “I don’t know — you tell me. Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.” 

I disagree. The blame should be placed on our local, state and federal leaders. They let us down by turning a public health crisis into political mayhem. Because of this wishy-washy leadership, more people have died and more people are getting sick.

Based on the current COVID cases, it is time for tough love. Mask mandates must be reinstituted (or in some cases instituted) across the country. Governments and businesses should follow the National Football League’s lead and require employees to get vaccinated. Vaccinations also should be required for employees and students at schools (12 years and older) and at universities.

Vaccines are still the best way to protect ourselves against the novel coronavirus and its Delta variant. If the government has to institute mandates to get shots in arms and folks to wear masks, so be it. All the personal rights in the world won’t matter if you are dead.

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Tammy C. Barney
Tammy C. Barney

Award-winning columnist Tammy Carter Barney earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans before starting her career at The Daily Comet in Thibodaux. She covered city government and education, wrote a column and was the first Black woman to work as the paper's managing editor. She worked at The Times-Picayune as a bureau chief, assistant city editor, TV editor and columnist and while there earned a MBA from Tulane University. She left The Times-Picayune for The Orlando Sentinel, where she served as an editor and wrote a weekly column for the lifestyle section. Her writing has won her multiple awards, including the prestigious Vernon Jarrett Award for Journalistic Excellence for a series of columns on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In addition to writing, Tammy is passionate about quilting and singing with the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Praise Team and Contemporary Choir. She also serves as chair of the New Orleans Human Rights Commission. For 17 years, Tammy was married to the late Keith G. Barney. She has one daughter and one granddaughter.